/ Forschung, People

New publication on inequality, victimhood, and redress

Dr. Rita Kesselring published a chapter in The Oxford Handbook of Law and Anthropology edited by Marie-Claire Foblets, Mark Goodale, Maria Sapignoli, and Olaf Zenker

In relation to inequality, the law is ambivalent. Legal norms can be used to create or formalize differences in a society, but social groups can also use legal norms in their attempts to attenuate inequality. This contribution differentiates three ways in which law can affect structures of inequality: legislation, case law, and law enforcement, and law’s discursive forms and legal practices. It focuses on the latter, or what Bourdieu calls ‘the force of law’, at the level of lived reality. To do so, it examines the apartheid litigations where South African victims of human rights violations turned to U.S. federal courts to seek redress, and shows how, in that pursuit, new forms of inequalities were produced. As the law needs to valuate life, the evaluation of human life poses the danger of producing new disparities. Recourse to the law can, however, also be emancipatory for the injured. Both effects—emancipation from and cementation of inequalities—have societal rather than mere technical causes.